CHAPTER 3: Irregular Rhythms

 

LISTENING LIST 3.1

Listening Guide 3.1.1

Historical Background

Composer: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Era of music history: classical

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work: Born to a non-musical family, Haydn became the court composer for Prince Nicholas Esterházy of Hungary.  Eventually, he became so famous that the prince released him from his duties though kept paying his salary.  The codifier of many of classical music’s most important genres, the symphony and string quartet among them, Haydn has remained in the repertory since his death.

 Piano Sonata No. 62., I. Allegro (1794)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 7 minutes and 30 seconds

Mode: major

Form: sonata-allegro (Exposition, 0:00; Exposition repeat, 2:04; Development, 4:07; Recapitulation, 5:45).

Comment: This piece bears comparison with the Mozart sonata heard earlier.  The dimensions of this piece, a work written about ten years later, are somewhat larger, particularly the development section.  Remember that the exposition and recapitulation in a sonata form have two themes, the second of which appears in the middle of both sections.  The second theme here appears at 1:14, 3:18, and 6:38.

 

Listening Guide 3.1.2

 Historical Background

Composer: Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: French

Life and work: Born into a non-musical family, Debussy was a freelance composer and music critic who lived in Paris.  Though he himself disliked the distinction, he is often referred to as an “impressionist” composer, much as Claude Monet was an impressionist painter.  Regarded in his lifetime as an important composer, his work has been highly esteemed since his death.

 “Pagodes” from Estampes (1903)

 Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 5 minutes

Mode: major-pentatonic

Form: ternary (A, 0:00; B, 1:11; A1, 2:40).

Comment:  Like other pieces we’ve listened to, the form of “Pagodes” is not standard.  In addition to its closeness to ternary, it resembles sonata form.  Listen for the music’s multiple themes, which first appear at the following three moments: theme 1, 0:09; theme 2, 0:38; theme 3, 1:38.  Notice also how, as the music proceeds, the rhythm gets incrementally faster.  This is sometimes called a “rhythmic crescendo,” after the Italian term that tells a musician to gradually play louder.

 

Listening Guide 3.1.3

Historical Background

Composer: Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: French

Life and work: Born to a non-musical—though artistic—family, Messiaen taught harmony for decades at the Paris Conservatory and for over sixty years was the organist at La Trinité, a church in Paris.  During his lifetime and ever since, his music has been widely performed and celebrated.

“The Short-Toed Lark”

from Catalogue of the Birds (1957)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 5 minutes

Mode: freely tonal and atonal

Form: non-standard (A, 0:00; B, 0:33; C, 0:56; cadenza, 1:23; D, 1:54; B, 2:27; A, 3:18).

Comment:  With the order of the A and B section reversed toward the end, the form of “The Short Toed Lark” is like an arch.  Messiaen was fond of these symmetrical—“non-retrogradable”—structures, both in form and with rhythm.  Listen also for the clear “call-and-response” organization to the music: often music from lower in the piano seems to summon the birds, portrayed with music that is higher in register.

Listening Guide 3.1.4

Arabesque no. 1 (1888)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 4 minutes and 20 seconds

Mode: major

Form: ternary: (A, 0:00; B, 1:31; A1, 3:01).

LISTENING LIST 3.2

Listening Guide 3.2.1

Historical Background

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Era of music history: Classical

Nationality: German

Life and work: Born into a musical family, Beethoven attracted the attention of Joseph Haydn and by the time he was thirty was the hottest composer in Vienna.  For much of his life, he enjoyed the patronage of the aristocracy.  But he also made money through publishing and performing his music.  A legend within his own time, Beethoven’s works have been the backbone of the classical repertoire since his death.

Piano Sonata op. 31, no. 2, I. Largo—Allegro (1802)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 9 minutes and 20 seconds

Mode: minor

Form: sonata-allegro. (Exposition, 0:12; Exposition repeat, 2:31; Development, 4:47; Recapitulation, 6:22)

Comment: Sometimes referred to as Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata, listen for the frequent tempo changes and how the rhythm veers between being motoric and dreamlike.  Remember that the exposition and recapitulation in a sonata form have two themes, the second of which appears in the middle of the section.  The second theme here appears at 1:25, 3:44, and 8:13.

Listening Guide 3.2.2

Historical Background

Composer: Fryderyck Chopin (1810-1849)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Polish / French

Life and work:  The son of a tutor to Polish aristocrats, Chopin’s passion for music showed itself early, and his family encouraged him.  He went on to make his living primarily as a piano teacher in Paris, though his was well-known as a composer.  He had a long affair with the novelist George Sand, during which she also supported him.

Mazurka op. 17 no. 4 (1833)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 4 minutes and 10 seconds

Mode: minor

Form: loose ternary. (Intro, 0:00; A, 0:10; B, 1:58; A, 2:46; Coda,3:57)

Comment: To perceive the rubato in this piece, try tapping along with the accompaniment; this is the strand of music that’s softly going “oom-pah-pah” in the background.  You’ll notice that these notes are not steady.  In the score, however, Chopin notates a steady rhythm.  But the pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy, does not play steadily.  Such playing is, however, entirely appropriate to the style of the music: Chopin himself used a lot of rubato when he played these pieces.

Listening Guide 3.2.3

Historical Background

Composer: Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Era of music history: Romantic / Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work:  Born to a non-musical family, Schoenberg was largely self-taught and, though a notorious composer in his own lifetime, made his living mainly as a composition teacher in Vienna, Berlin, and, later, in Los Angeles, where he had fled after the rise of Nazism.  His work remains very challenging for audiences and musicians today, though certain works of his are often played, and his prominent place in music history is without question.

Six Little Piano Pieces, op. 19 (1913)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 6 minutes

Mode: There is no mode: the music is atonal.

Form: The piece consists of six tiny movements, almost all under one minute long.  1, 0:00; 2, 1:25; 3, 2:19; 4, 3:18; 5, 3:45; 6, 4:19

Comment: Within the space of six minutes, Schoenberg embraces an extraordinary amount of rhythmic variety.  From the impetuous first movement, to the spare second, on to the frantic fifth, and the dreamy sixth, this little suite of pieces is a dense concentration of musical gestures.

LISTENING LIST 3.3

Listening Guide 3.3.1

Historical Background

Composer: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Era of music history: classical

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work: Born to a non-musical family, Haydn became the court composer for Prince Nicholas Esterházy of Hungary.  Eventually, he became so famous that the prince released him from his duties though kept paying his salary.  The codifier of many of classical music’s most important genres, the symphony and string quartet among them, Haydn has remained in the repertory since his death.

Keyboard Trio in C Major, Hob. XV/XXVII

II. Andante

Instrumentation: violin, cello, and piano

Duration: 5 minutes and 5 seconds

Mode: major and minor

Form: ternary (A, 0:00; B, 1:46; A1, 3:26).

Comment: Haydn provides here a beautiful example of the classical era’s unique approach to rhythm.  Within the first minute, we get a hymn-like texture, then more rhythmic fluidity (0:16), an abrupt—yet elegant—slow down at 0:40, and a quick and delicate little piano solo that contains the fastest notes we’ve yet heard (0:48).  The B section, which switches to minor, takes a steadier approach to rhythm, though sudden dynamic changes punctuate the texture.  When the A section returns, the opening theme’s hymn is filled in the quicker notes that we’ve heard in the intervening music.

Listening Guide 3.3.2

Historical Background

Composer: Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Spanish

Life and work: Born into a non-musical family, Granados trained mostly as a pianist but gained notice as a composer in his thirties.  His fame continued to grow in the twentieth-century, but his life was cut short by a tragic drowning accident.  This piece is his single most famous work.

“The Maiden and the Nightingale”

from Goyescas, op. 11 (1911)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 6 minutes and 20 seconds

Mode: minor

Form: non-standard (Theme, 0:00; Variation 1, 1:16; Variation 2, 2:26; Variation 3, 3:06; Theme, 4:47; Coda/Nightingale 5:16).

Comment: The form consists of a set of increasingly elaborate variations on the main theme.  After the music makes its way to major in variation 3, the music returns to a simpler, abbreviated presentation of the main theme.  Granados finishes the piece with a series of nightingale calls.  The main tune is derived from a folk song Granados heard in Valencia.

The music was inspired by a painting by Francisco Goya (1746-1828), which formed part of series that depicted a story.  In this scene, Rosaria, a beautiful, wealthy woman, sings mournfully to a nightingale, while her lover, Fernando, a royal guard, dies in her arms.    

The amount of rubato—both indicated by Granados and added by the performer—is so extreme that the meter and beat are very difficult to perceive, especially in the piece’s opening.

Listening Guide 3.3.3

Historical Background

Composer: Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Japanese

Life and work:  Takemitsu was not from a musical family and only took up serious musical studies—mostly on his own—when, as a teenager, he heard Western music for the first time.  He went on to become Japan’s most eminent composer of concert music as well as music for film.  Known for its stylistic variety, his work is widely respected but till seldom performed.

Green (1967)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 5 minutes and 40 seconds

Mode: Takemitsu uses a variety of superimposed scales to create a cloudy, impressionistic sound.

Form: ternary

Comment: Very much inspired by Debussy, Green is beautifully dreamy, featuring hazy harmonies, and luxurious silences.  At the very ending, the blurry harmonies clarify into perfect serenity.